“Neerav is my BEST friend!”
I look up from the book I am reading and smile at my 3 year old daughter sitting on the floor beside me, talking to a doll she holds in her hand.
Neerav is her best buddy at playschool and the name’s been ringing repeatedly at home over the last couple of months. I haven’t met this little boy but it is rather cute to watch her go on and on about him every time she regales me with tales of playtime at school.
I watch my little girl playing with her dolls, a paper clip and an empty tissue roll.
Kids, they grow up ever so fast. And as they grow, so do their worlds and our worries.
I grew up in the midst of boys, climbing compound walls and trees, playing with them and engaging in fist fights and quarrels just the way they did. I went to a co-ed school where, unlike what is the norm in conservative government schools in India, girls and boys were encouraged to interact with each other and literally grew up together. Students were never divided on the basis of gender and it was in fact compulsory that boys and girls were seated together in class.
Today, as an adult I am just as at ease with men as I am with women. In fact some of my dearest friends are boys and they are among the most beautiful human beings I know.
Why then do I feel worry niggle at my heart every time she tells me that a boy is her best friend?
On one hand is this big ugly world of molesters, rapists and criminals that lurk in every corner of our society. On the other, there are the paedophiles, the child molesters.
Did you know that India tops the list in a global compilation of reports of Child Sexual Abuse Material found online? This year alone, the Centre received a total of 1.68 crore such reports. The material thus reported is filled with photographs and videos depicting children in a clear sexual angle.
Just imagine. Men using pictures of little boys and girls for sexual stimulation.
But then that is the world of adults right?
I just have to keep her warned about talking to or striking up a friendship with strangers, teach her about good touch and bad touch, that she should be wary about men in general, refrain from posting her photographs online and we are good to go right?
The issues that infest our world get worse with each passing day. A look at the daily news bulletin will tell you why.
Every other day young children are sexually abused by their own playmates, classmates, schoolmates, friends, cousins and so on.
What has our world come to?
We too grew up in the midst of boys, playing with them. We too had male classmates and high school crushes but then there were never any sexual overtones to any of it as far as I can remember.
Or was that because I was always a loner and not aware of the ways of the world?
When in the 12th std one of my batchmates got expelled from school for planting a hidden camera phone in a bag to record visuals of girls as they stepped over the bag, I was nothing short of shocked. And for the love of God I couldn’t in the wildest sense figure out what he was so curious about.
I was born and brought up in a typical conservative middle class family in which sex, romance and the like were taboo topics. So much so that all hell broke loose when my big brother one day discovered that I was reading a Sweet Valley High novel. I had been curious as to why the rest of the girls in my class were raving about it and so had issued it from my school library.
With the intense quarrel that ensued from my ‘criminal, immoral’ deed, I stopped all thoughts of exploration and henceforth stuck to reading the novels that my brother approved of.
Soon after school I was enrolled in a women’s college to keep me safely tucked away from the big bad world, immoral boys and any chances of unwanted romance.
Therefore it should come as no surprise when I say that I had no clue what sex was or even that guys had something called ‘erection’, till the age of 23.
I found out about it in the crudest way possible during my PG days when I stumbled upon an enormous porn collection my classmate had in his laptop (I had borrowed it for the weekend). He had even saved photographs of a few of his (sexy) female friends and a screenshot of his ex-girlfriend stripping for him, in the same folder.
Imagine my shock.
The sight was sick and made me want to puke but once reality settled in, everything suddenly made sense to me.
Why men grope on public transport, why they flash themselves, why the boy planted that camera, the random comments made by roadside oglers, why one of my teachers in school told us girls to wear tights daily and kept saying – “guys don’t think the way you do. You may think they see you as good friends but it is not so. They have other intentions in mind. You will understand what I mean, later in life”.
Why in the world were we never told directly, in a matter of fact manner, about the way nature has created us and sex as a process that is just as normal and natural as eating and sleeping?
If we were I am sure a lot of school girls, myself included, wouldn’t have felt guilty on being groped on a bus. Wouldn’t have felt that the fault was ours when in fact it never was.
A group of 4 school boys gang rape an 8 year old schoolmate for fun not once or twice but thrice in a span of three months from Jan 2020 to March 2020. A 16 year old boy from Gurgaon ties his 15 year old cousin sister to the bed and rapes her when his mother heads out for an hour. 8 boys from a top ranked IB school in Mumbai, all of 13-14 years, are caught chatting on Whatsapp about “banging, raping and killing” their own classmates.
There seems to be no end to the number of cases popping up each day. The ‘bois locker room’ controversy is just a reflection of the underlying issue.
But what is the underlying issue?
A bit of research online and every major research on the topic points at the easy access to unlimited internet to be the main culprit. With no proper sex education happening at home or in school, children naturally turn to the internet. And where does the internet lead them?
Porn which portrays all human relationships to be centred around just one thing.
Fed on such bullshit which throws the sanctity of all relationships in life, including the ones you share with your parents, siblings and teachers to the wind, why be surprised that kids see each other and everyone else only in terms of gender, as tools for sexual gratification?
Yes, there are other causes for the rise in such cases but one cannot deny the role played by uncensored, irresponsible use of the internet.
Even more worrying is the fact that such incidents and issues including the ‘bois locker room’ controversy has happened in the so called elite, “good” schools of the nation.
What use is “good education” if it doesn’t teach children something as basic as mutual respect?
As the mother to a 3 year old child I ask you – what is the solution?
Raise your kids well by sensitising them to the world around?
Alright. But how do I protect my child from those kids who aren’t raised well?
Teach her not to make friends with boys?
The relationships I share with my male friends are so beautiful. Never have I ever heard them, even in jest, make rude or lewd misogynistic comments about the women around them. Never once have I felt insecure or unsafe in their company. In fact they have always been very protective. Even today if I were forced to be left in their company in the dead of the night I will trust them and would have no second thoughts whatsoever about my safety.
I don’t want my daughter to miss out on the experience of sharing wonderful friendships with any one in the name of gender.
How then do I teach her that fine line between being alert and cautious yet open to good human beings?
How do I equip my child to be able to fend for herself even when I am not around?
How do I teach her that no place, not even school, is safe and yet, let her fly…?